15 Tips For a GREAT Relationship

Over the course of my career, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to coach and counsel countless amazing couples that are truly committed to their relationship but struggle to “get along” with each other. Oftentimes, we get caught up in the day to day “grind” and forget why we committed our self to that person in the first place. It’s easy to focus on our own “wants”, “needs”, and vision of how things are “supposed to be”, forgetting that there’s another person involved in the relationship. Great relationships and marriages don’t just “magically” happen, they take effort and a conscious decision to effectively communicate with our partner the way they need to be communicated with.

As much as we would like to think that there is a magic answer or a simple step-by-step process for creating great relationships, this just simply isn’t the case. If you follow these 15 Tips to a GREAT Relationship, you’ll be well on your way to communicating effectively and creating positive outcomes in all aspects of your relationships

1. Be a GREAT Listener

Show sincere interest in what’s happening in the other person’s life. Remember we all we have one mouth and two ears. In any conversation, we really want to focus more on listening for understanding as opposed to listening to respond. And lastly, stop talking about YOUR day first.

2. Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes

A great listener can momentarily steps into their partner’s world without being sucked into their negative ‘state’ or ‘story’. Being in the other person’s world requires that you listen for understanding. In other words, while you are listening, you do that and only that; you listen! This may take a bit of practice since most people tend to partially listen, while internally preparing and rehearsing what they are going to say next.

3. STOP Trying to FIX Their Problem

Empathy is the ability to understand and feel the other person’s difficulty without trying to get involved (unless asked)!

Sympathy is feeling sorry for your partner. Sympathy often times comes across as disrespectful and be perceived by the other partner that they don’t have the resources to handle their own problems.

4. Focus on Strengths

Make a conscious choice to pay more attention to your partner’s strengths than their imperfections. The more you focus on your partner’s good qualities, the more likely they are to repeat these qualities. Looking for the good in your partner and complimenting them on it will pay off exponentially.

5. Keep in Touch

We’re all lead busy life’s and often only see our partner running out the door to work. Take a moment to send your partner a text or call them at a convenient time. Let them know that you thinking about them and that you love them.

6. Point of View

Make a genuine effort to see the world from your partner’s perspective. This is probably the single most important skill in relating to others in regards to our romantic relationships. If you were in their shoes, with their feelings, beliefs, values, background, how would the situation look to you? When trying to view the situation from the other person’s perspective, you’re able to see what their needs, expectations, and concerns are.

7. Respect THEIR Views and Values

We all see and perceive the world differently. Our view or model of reality is based on our experience of life up to now. No one worldview is right or wrong, it’s just a matter of opinion. Just as our views change from time to time, so will our partner’s. When we really value and respect our partner’s view the world, we often enrich our own view of the world. Learn from each other!

8. Accept Imperfections

The truth is that we all have imperfections and moments of weakness. Remember perfect people do not exist. Most of us are doing the best we can from moment to moment. It’s important to understand that we are all a work in progress. Your partner is a human being and subject to bouts of irrational thinking, just like you.

9. Happy, or RIGHT?

Eliminate your need to be RIGHT!  Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get into conflict with your partner based on, “I’m right and they are wrong”? Have you ever noticed how ridiculous you feel after? You know, when you’ve hurt one another and are making up again? How about making everyone’s life easier, and deciding together that you won’t engage in conflict in the first place?

Make a conscious choice that each partner in the relationship will keep a sense of perspective and aim to avoid arguments over silly issues such as: who did not put the milk back in the refrigerator last night, who put the toilet paper on backwards, or that the other person puts their toothpaste on the toothbrush incorrectly. This will give each other the permission to be human and from time to time and make mistakes without having to suffer the consequences afterwords.

10. Life is Short

If you suddenly realize that you only had three months to live, would you spend your time focusing on arguing over who put the toilet paper on backward or how the other person puts the toothpaste on the toothbrush? How much time would you want to spend with your loved ones? Would you spend more time saying I love you to those around you?

The reality is, we all procrastinate on spending time with each other, saying I love you, and treating our partner as though they are the most important person in the world. We assume that life will go on forever and ever. We MUST make the most of each day together!

11. STOP Trying to Change Your Partner

This is an especially common pitfall that couples fall into. You did not choose your partner because of their potential to be the person you want them to become. You got together because you love one another, and the truth is your love only focused on what you loved about the other person. Many times, when we start living together we start becoming increasingly obsessed with telling our partner about the habits or behaviors that we don’t like about them. Take a moment to consider how this must make your partner feel. Nobody likes to be criticized about their shortcomings. Focus on what your partner does well. Accept and respect their imperfections. How do you like being around somebody that’s always pointing out your faults?

12. Value Differences

Often, when we first meet, it’s the similarities between us that enable us to bond and create the relationship. But as we spend more time together, we begin to focus our attentions on how our partner is different from us. These differences can either strengthen or weaken the relationship depending on your perspective. When you value each other’s differences, you’re acting as a team with combined strengths that make the partnership stronger than the total of individual strengths.

Value your partner’s differences and the way the way they think. You chose to be with this person for a reason, therefore, accept your partner’s differences as qualities and characteristics that make them unique and special.

13. STOP Mindreading!

Take responsibility for the effects of your communication style. Having the right intention is a good place to start, but that isn’t always enough! Your partner can only respond to what and how you communicate. Nobody can read your mind and know what it is you meant!

Always communicate responsibly towards the response you get from your partner. If your partner is not responding as you expected, change the way you are approaching the conversation. Otherwise, you will continue down the road of ineffective communication which leads to conflict. Try to tailor your message to suit the way your partner is thinking at that particular moment. If your partner just came home after a long day from work and is exhausted, it’s probably not the best time to try to engage in a deep conversation about problematic issues.

14. Value Each Other and What You Have

Valuing each other is understanding that you both have flaws. Don’t take the approach that your partner might be a bit flawed right now but soon you get them to where you want them. When you enter a marriage or relationship, you are accepting the person as they are, it’s a package deal.

Many times, as the relationship grows and we get to know our partner better, we often want to change our partner based on our individual belief systems regarding their role in the relationship. When this happens, we embark on a relentless campaign to change them! Guaranteed, this will result in arguments, resentment, and hurt feelings. Stop taking each other for granted and accept each other completely; faults and all!

15. It’s a Marathon, NOT a Sprint!

Remember this point, especially in difficult moments in your relationship! We’ve all been in situations where everything is going along fine and then all the sudden some “issue” from out of nowhere hits us like a ton of bricks. Regardless of how trivial the issue might be, we end up engaging in conflict with one another.

Recognize that this happens in the best of relationships. Next time a conflict starts to develop; ask yourself, “Do I want to be right or happy”?

 

Thank You…

Thank You...

Thank You…

Can you think back to the last time you actually wrote a thank you note to someone?  Not a text or an email, but actually took the time to hand-write a thank you note?  Depending on where you’re at on the generational scale or the part of the world you originate from, handwriting a thank you note may be common practice.  But, if you’re like me (and I know most of you are), it’s been a long time since you hand-wrote a thank you note.  In fact, if I’m being honest, the last time I remember “needing” to write a thank you note was after my wedding 26 years ago.  I’m not saying that thank you notes didn’t get sent out after my wedding, but I think that everyone reading this knows; I’m not the one that sent them.  Let’s just say; I was fortunate to find a partner that understands etiquette and social graces better than I do!

When we think about writing a thank you note, big ‘life events’ typically come to mind: graduations, engagements, weddings, births, etc… We make the time to hand-write thank you notes for gifts we’ve received in celebration of our special moments.  ‘Life events’ should be celebrated!  And let’s face it, there’s no better way to celebrate than by receiving ‘gifts’!

Receiving ‘gifts’ from other people is an AMAZING experience!  Think about it…  Someone thinks enough of you to actually take the time to give you a gift, whatever it may be.  It makes us feel good to be celebrated.  And why shouldn’t it?  We all enjoy and need to feel ‘special’ every now and again.  Truth is, gifts make us feel good…

Several years ago, I found myself at what I consider to be the lowest point in my life.  I literally felt like I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I was miserable!  So, I took a bold step and made an appointment with a therapist.  I got to my first appointment, and I was ready to get ‘fixed’.  I wanted to figure out why I couldn’t just be happy like everyone else.  The therapist and I started a long process of exploring my past hurts.  Really??  I didn’t need to explore anything!  I knew exactly what my past hurts were as well as who the people were that hurt me.  But, I continued to go…

During a particularly difficult session, my therapist suggested that I go home and write letters to all the people that had hurt me (apparently, I needed to get my “anger out”).  With a great deal of pissing and moaning, I reluctantly began writing my letters.  I was writing with furious anger, often times ripping the page with my pen.  Every time I sat down to write, I could feel the RAGE building inside of me.  But wasn’t that the point?  An ‘outlet’ for my anger?  A way to keep from ‘exploding’.  I never found writing these letters to be particularly helpful. Yes, I got angry and really let those people that hurt me ‘have it’ (on paper).  Truth be told, the only thing I got out of writing those letters was ANGRY, which led me to dwelling on those ugly parts of my life even more.

I continued to go to therapy for a while longer, but ended up really frustrated as I didn’t ‘feel’ any better about myself than when I started.  So, I eventually left therapy and went on about my business of being miserable.  But, I couldn’t stop thinking about those letters full of vitriol and hate that I had written.  Why didn’t this exercise work for me?

As I sat down to write my letters, I did exactly as I was instructed:

  1. think about the past hurts
  2. get angry
  3. write my feelings down
  4. tell the people off that hurt me
  5. release it and forget it

If you just want to emote in writing, this exercise may be helpful to you.  However, if you’re trying to move forward with your life, this exercise is worthless as it’s flawed from the start.  Think about it.  The first step in the process is to ‘think about your past hurts’.  Before you even sit down to put pen to paper, you’re in a negative, possibly hateful mindset.  What else can you possibly see or feel besides anger and hate, when you begin something with anger and hate?  See the point I’m getting at?  When you begin any process with a negative, hateful state of mind; you have an excellent chance of a negative, hateful outcome.  This whole exercise is based on digging up and stewing about things we can’t change.  And it certainly does nothing to move anyone FORWARD!

What if you approached this exercise from a different state of mind?  What if you weren’t looking to tell someone that hurt you to go “F” themselves?  Consider this for a moment…  What if before you started to write that ‘letter’, you look for reasons to THANK the person that hurt you?  Whoa… Pump the brakes!  Thank the person that hurt me??  That’s right, THANK the person that hurt you…

I’ll be honest, the thought of writing a thank you note to someone that hurt me was difficult.  I had a hard time knowing where to start.  I mean, the people that hurt me left some really deep emotional scars.  What could I possibly ‘thank’ these people for?  As I began to think about some deeply emotional events in my life and the people that hurt me the most, I had a hard time coming up with things to be thankful for.  My first few attempts at writing from a mindset of gratitude were challenging to say the least.  I truly was looking for reasons to be thankful, but the negative emotions and inner chatter kept creeping back in.  After a few days of really mulling this over, I challenged myself to think of only 1 person and 1 hurtful thing to say thank you for each day.  As a couple more days passed, I found this process getting easier.  I began to notice my anger towards the people that hurt me subsiding little by little.  After about a week of coming up with 1 person per day to say thank you to, I was finally able to complete my first thank you note to the person that left the deepest scars.  Without a doubt, this was an emotional process for me.  But, I was no longer carrying the emotional baggage that had become so heavy.  I no longer needed or sought an ‘apology’ that I knew deep down I was never going to get.  Once I began thanking the people that hurt me the most, my feelings toward that person softened.  With the vitriol and rage gone, I realized that the people that hurt me the deepest, are actually the people that gave me the greatest gifts in my life.

Thanking the people that have hurt you isn’t about excusing or minimizing their bad actions, but releasing yourself from the cycle of victimization.  The simple fact is, the deep emotional pain I experienced in my life made me who I am today.  My values, belief systems, determination and resiliency were all forged through my pain.  By thanking those that hurt me, I was able to change the way I viewed those people.  Not viewing these people from a context of hate and rage didn’t erase any of the painful moments, but allowed me to move forward without the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I was finally liberated from my painful past.

The reality is, we all carry around emotional wounds and scars from people that have hurt us.  Everyone that has made it far enough in life to read this article has been hurt in some way, shape, or form.  The question is, what are you going to do with that hurt?  There are only 2 real options at this point.  You can continue to drag that baggage around with you and stay stuck, OR, you can learn to view your past hurts from a perspective of gratitude and empower your future.

The great thing about life, is we can choose to view our past pain and hurt however we want.  Our experiences, even the painful ones, have provided us with an infinite supply of resources and options to unburden ourselves if we choose view those experiences differently.  Next time someone hurts you, don’t be so quick to tell them to “F” off.  Take a moment to view the experience from a place of thankfulness and gratitude.  Celebrate the gift their hurtful behavior gave you…

So…  I ask the question again in a little different way.  When’s the last time you wrote a thank you card to someone that hurt you??

Identity Theft

Identity Crisis

Living in an age where Identity Theft is so prevalent, hearing the term alone is enough to make the hair on the back of our neck stand up.  And it should!  It’s easy to find examples of people that have literally lost “everything” and taken decades to reclaim their lives, if they ever did.  In 2014, it is estimated that Identity Theft affected the lives of 17.6 million Americans, costing over $15 billion dollars, according to statistics released by the Department of Justice in September, 2015.  While these numbers are staggering, the true cost of Identity Theft cannot be accurately measured by statistics in the traditional sense.  We think of Identity Theft as something that happens to us.  Something out of our control.  The reality is, in many cases, our identity isn’t stolen, we GIVE it away…

The Identity Theft I’m speaking of isn’t a crime committed against us, and it’s not a crime that someone will go to prison for. The type of Identity Theft discussed in this article is more insidious in nature, as it happens over time without us realizing that it’s actually happening.  Sure, we go to great lengths to protect our financial identity and our identifiable information.  But do we really protect our personal identity as well as we think we do?  Of course, you would never consider giving someone you don’t know access to your driver’s license, credit card, and social security number, and with good reason.  But the fact remains, every single day pieces of our identity are stolen by giving up or forgetting who we really are, what we really want, and where we really want to be in life…

What parts of your identity have you allowed to be stolen? Where’s that person with all the hopes and dreams gone? How did you become the person you are instead of who you wanted to be? How many directions do you allow yourself to be pulled in that aren’t in a direction you want to go? Of course, we all have obligations and responsibilities; bosses, jobs, kids, spouses, etc…  It’s easy to get emotionally attached and caught up in the daily grind of doing for everyone else and not realize that you’ve strayed so far off course from the life you were supposed to have.  We learn to settle for what’s right in front of us instead of pursuing what we really want and who we really are.  We justify losing our identity by making others and everything else around us our purpose; and in many cases, adopting the attitude of a “martyr”.  Sure, as well adjusted human beings, most of us derive great pleasure from doing something nice for others, but losing your identity goes much deeper than possessing a selfless attitude.  It’s about the pieces of your identity that are lost every time you participate in or continue to engage in something that is completely misaligned with your beliefs and values.  For example; have you ever stayed in a bad relationship too long?  Beat yourself up trying to live up to someone else’s standard? Compromised your values and beliefs in order to “get along”?  We all have to some extent…

I know what you’re thinking…  I’ve heard it countless times from my clients.  “I’m an independent person!!  I would NEVER let anyone steal MY identity!!  I’m my TRUE self 100% of the time!!” We all want to declare how fiercely independent we are.  But if we’re being honest with ourselves, a majority of the bravado about our independence is based in fears and insecurities that we carry around with us each day.  Still don’t believe you give away pieces of your identity??  How about giving up what you want and who you are once you become a parent? Sure, parenthood comes with personal sacrifice, but parenthood is supposed to be a part of your identity, NOT all of it.  Have you ever found yourself asked by your boss to engage in an activity that was out of alignment with your personal beliefs??  Everyone that has been employed by someone else has faced this challenge.  We go along with what our boss wants us to do, knowing it’s WRONG for us to participate.  However, we justify compromising our values and beliefs in the name of a paycheck or career advancement.  But to what cost??

Understand, this article is NOT encouraging selfish behavior or discounting the fact that our goals, values, and belief systems can evolve as we experience life events, but rather to illustrate just how easy it is to lose our identity when we continue to live a lifestyle misaligned with our core beliefs.  We are all so much more than employees, fathers, mothers, spouses, or any other title we place on ourselves.  We are each unique individuals, worthy of acceptance because of who we are; NOT what we can do for others.  Until we stop thinking about Identity Theft in the traditional sense and really consider the emotional cost of losing our identity, we run the risk of losing ourselves for good…

 

Resiliency

Desert Flower

Living in the Sonoran Desert most of my life, it is not uncommon to experience 110° heat for 4-6 months out of the year.  During these summer months, everything living that is green (which isn’t much) turns to a dry, dusty shell of itself.  It’s very common to see what most consider to be weeds popping up out of the dry, sun scorched earth.  Most of the time when we encounter weeds, our first reaction is to eradicate them. But have you ever stopped to consider how resilient these “weeds” must be to keep coming back year after year in such harsh conditions in spite of our efforts to destroy them??

In many ways, weeds and desert landscapes are viewed as metaphors of our unwanted past experiences.  Experiences that may have left us “scarred” or “wounded” in ways that continue to affect us in our daily lives.  Stop and think about it for a moment…  We all procrastinate, engage in negative self-talk, and sabotage ourselves in some way, shape, or form on a pretty consistent basis based on emotions we’ve attached to certain events in our lives.  The fact is, a great majority of people continue to pull the “weeds” as they pop up and keep on moving without ever taking notice of the weed itself.  No more unpleasant memory, no need to keep worrying about it…

Consider for a moment the conditions needed for a weed to grow in the desert…  I’m certainly not a botanical expert to know exactly what a plant needs to thrive in the desert. However, it’s apparent that a plant’s ability not just to survive, but actually bloom in 110° plus heat with little to no water is unbelievably RESILIENT!! Resiliency is often commonly defined as one’s ability to endure, overcome or “bounce back” from adversity.  We all have situations and experiences that we’ve become resilient to.  For instance, a conflict occurs with your significant other and hurtful words get said.  You don’t end the relationship over a single incident of hurt feelings. Yes, it may take some people longer to overcome the hurt feelings, but eventually we move forward.  Resiliency is also about learning to adapt to our environment.  Often times we get stuck in our comfort zones and resist adapting to a changing environment.  This is a natural response for many of us.  Our comfort zones are comfortable.  But the fact is, there’s NO change or personal growth to be found in our comfort zones…

So where does resiliency come from? Resiliency is born out of our sheer determination to control the chaos in our lives, often times referring to ourselves as “survivors”.  Remember, just because there may not be a “survivor ribbon” for what you have gone through doesn’t mean you haven’t had to overcome horrible experiences.  In many ways, we’re ALL “survivors”.  For instance, everyone reading this has made it this far in life in spite of what has occurred in the past.  Congratulations, you made it!! Resiliency really comes down to behavioral flexibility which allows us to make sense of and overcome the adversities we’re faced with every day.  It helps us make sense of a chaotic, cruel world. Everyone wants peace in their lives and to fit in and belong somewhere…

Have you ever stopped to consider the beauty and strength that lies within you??  How resilient you actually are??  Think back to a difficult time in your life.  What were the circumstances?? How did you overcome the situation??  Now, let’s take it one step further and consider the times you not only overcame the adversity, but actually THRIVED??  We all have these situations in our lives… Ever found yourself in a situation where you loved going to work until the new boss came? Remember thinking, “there’s no way I can work for this person”, “who do they think they are coming in changing everything”? Unless you’ve never worked for someone else, you’ve experienced situations similar to this.  Did you quit your job? Probably not.  You figured out a way to adapt to the changing environment, and in many cases actually appreciated the changes?  Ever experience a difficult break up you thought you’d never get over only to end up finding the love of your life? Ever get promoted by a boss that said they would never promote you?  How about learning to navigate the dynamics of a family you married into whose way of doing things is totally different than anything you’d ever seen?  The fact of the matter is, all of us have had to overcome or adapt to adverse situations; much like the “weed” pictured above.  We’ve all walked across the scorched, desolate, desert floor in some fashion and come out it STRONGER.  While the journey may not have comfortable and you were stretched emotionally more than you thought bearable, the fact is you made it.  If you’re being honest with yourself, when you look back at your life, you’ll see that the times you grew the most were when you were removed from your comfort zone.  Resiliency is NOT created in our comfort zones! Resiliency comes from a place deep within our core not only to survive, but to THRIVE.  Resiliency allows us to LIVE LIFE to the FULLEST!!

The moral of the story…  Next time you see a “weed”, don’t automatically reach to pull it out.  Stop and consider its strength, adaptability, and ability to blossom in harsh environments; much like YOU…